The man who gunned down 39 people, including two Indians, at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day in an attack claimed by Islamic State appears to have been well versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria.
The attacker, who remains at large, was identified as 28-year-old Kyrgyz citizen Iakhe Mashrapov by Turkish state broadcaster TRT on Tuesday. CNN Turk too said he was believed to be of Kyrgyz origin.
“The assailant has experience in combat for sure... he could have been fighting in Syria for years,” a security source told Reuters, saying he was likely to have been directed in his actions by the Islamic State.
Haberturk newspaper said police investigations had revealed the gunman had entered Turkey from Syria and went to the central city of Konya in November, travelling with his wife and two children so as not to attract attention.
Mashrapov’s wife, who was arrested in Konya early on Tuesday, said she did not know he belonged to the IS, according to police sources cited by Britain’s ITV channel.
The attacker shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance to the exclusive Reina nightclub on Sunday. He then opened fire with an automatic rifle inside, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground.
Haberturk cited a barman at the club as saying the attacker had thrown explosive devices several times during the shooting spree, apparently to disorientate people and give himself time to reload. Several witnesses who spoke to Reuters said there had been small explosions during the attack.
In a statement claiming the attack on Monday, IS described the club as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday” and said the shooting was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.
At least 27 of the dead were foreigners, Turkish officials said. Another 70 were injured.
Turkish Twitter users posted a photo from Mashrapov’s passport whose validity authorities in Kyrgyzistan were not immediately able to confirm, Kyrgyz news agency AKIpress reported.
In the passport, Mashrapov’s date of birth is shown as August 2, 1988 and the document was issued on October 21, 2016, a month before he arrived in Turkey.
A manhunt is underway for the attacker. Turkish officials have not commented on details of the investigation but government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday the authorities were close to fully identifying the gunman, after gathering fingerprints and information on his appearance, and had detained eight other people.
A selfie video of the alleged attacker, apparently walking around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, was broadcast by Turkish news channels on Tuesday.
Kurtulmus made no reference to the IS claim of responsibility but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.
NATO member Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against IS and since August, has been conducting military operations inside Syria to drive the Sunni militants and Kurdish militia fighters away from its borders.
IS has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months.